Archive for March, 2011

Can’t is a four letter word

Posted on March 22, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

On Sunday I ran my first ever Half Marathon.  Yesterday one of the guys at Hyperpublic asked me if it was hard.  I thought about it for a minute and said, “you know, it really wasn’t that hard.”  There were 10,000 other people of all shapes, sizes and ages who were able to run the 13.1 miles, and the reality is, it’s not some huge accomplishment to run that distance.  There are hundreds of thousands of people who run at 2x the distance in traditional marathons every year.  As I reflect on the race, I am drawn less toward the physical implications of completion, and much more toward the mental aspects of it.  The coolest thing about finishing that race was that I took something that at first glance, seemed unattainable, and then I attained it.  I had never run 13.1 miles before (i think the furthest i had ever run was about 8), so when faced with the prospect of running, my mind immediately assumed that I could not run 13.1.  Typically, it is at these moments, where I confront something unattainable, that I am most motivated to attempt.

Each time, in life, that you reach something that at first seems impossible (or even improbable), it inspires you to attempt the next. Having repeatedly attempted the unlikely across facets of life ranging from physical, mental, professional, romantic, and beyond, I have developed a confidence that the seemingly unattainable, is in fact within reach.  There have been times when I have reached for these improbabilities and come up short…but i have defied my “instinctual odds” enough times to know that initial disbelief is not a good barometer for what I should and should not attempt.  My dad asked me if I felt proud to have finished the race, and I replied, “no, I don’t feel proud, I feel empowered.”  Empowered to attempt something greater, or harder, or further away, because I yet again proved wrong the rational or fearful side of myself that ascribes to a mantra of “can’t.”

I often tell people who feel trapped or incapable of doing what they really want that “there is no such thing as can’t,” and I genuinely believe that.  I literally cannot thing of a single thing in this world that is impossible.  There is much that is hard, or highly improbable, but there is no goal that is not worth attempting for fear that it is not reachable.  If you’re an entrepreneur, but really if you are anyone at all, try to isolate the moments in your life that your mind reverts to a concept of “can’t.”  Take a couple hacks at things that seem impossible.  As soon as you attain one, the world will never look the same.

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Open Letter to Seed Investors

Posted on March 18, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Dear seed investors, let me give you a little tip that you wouldn’t ever arrive at if you haven’t been a seed-backed entrepreneur.  When one of you portfolio companies sends you an email update with what’s been going on at the company…respond.  It doesn’t have to be anything earth shattering, in fact it can even be two words, but some acknowledgement that you have, in fact, read the update, would be more appreciated than you know.

We are invested in almost 40 companies at Lerer Ventures, and I read every single word of every single update that every single founder sends to me.  I always make a point of writing back, sometimes with ideas and questions, other times just a “great update, thanks,” but something to let the founder know that we are reading and listening.  I think I developed this practice out of my own experience, sending out updates to a syndicate of 5-8 investors, and than anxiously awaiting feedback.  The strange thing is, it is not uncommon to send out an update and then….crickets….nobody writes back.

One of our founders sent me a note a few months ago, thanking me for my attention and saying “you’re the only one who ever writes back to our updates, I really appreciate it.”  I told her, it’s not that the others aren’t reading, it’s just that they are detatched enough from the vulnerabilities of being an early stage founder that they either never knew or have forgotten what it’s like to send out an update and not hear anything back.  90% of seed investors probably do read what’s going on, ingest it, make decisions and give advice going forward based on the content of the update, but they just don’t think to take the extra 60 seconds to 5 minutes to close the feedback loop with their founders.

So investors: we write you updates because we want to make sure you know what’s going on, but also because we want to get feedback on our thinking and progress.  I know we interact in person and on the phone in between updates, but take a second to respond to what we’ve sent you.  It means a lot to us to know you’re engaged.

And entrepreneurs: it’s not that your investors aren’t listening or don’t care, they are just viewing your update as information and not a request for response.  If you hear crickets…don’t sweat it.

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#WINNING @ SXSW and #LOSING in Japan

Posted on March 14, 2011. Filed under: startups, venture capital |








As I watched my twitter stream this weekend I was reminded, or should I say slapped in the face, by a war that has been stirring in my mind for more than a year.  On one side: the all-consuming, constantly updating, soap opera that is internet/startup land.  On the other side: everything else that matters in life.  All weekend, my feed was split between media recounting the ongoing devastation in Japan and self promotional SXSW tweets recounting parties and relationship building between the who’s who of the internet and VC world.  There’s something hard to swallow about watching a video like this: and then immediately consuming a tweet like this:

“Ruh roh. Now SXSW is getting wacky. On a crazy bus to nowhere @abatalion (pic) @davemcclure @naval #winning

I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Great, I’m glad Mark Suster and the CTO of living social are #WINNING right now, because there are certainly a lot of people #LOSING.”  Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with partying and having an awesome time at SXSW, but I look at self promotional hashable tweet after self promotional hashable tweet, and I am reminded how easy it is to get lost in the internet soap opera and forget that there is an entire world unfolding around it.

But again, this is only a salient example of a much more fundamental war for consciousness that I myself experience daily.  At other times, I am as guilty as anyone else of hanging on tweets, dipping in and out of the fabric of the social stream, moving around the pieces, and allowing the soap opera to become my own reality.  Just as I tweet something smart @fredwilson, there is an uprising in Tunisia where a reality exists that is so much more meaningful than anything I am thinking about or have to say.

I pass by 3, not 1, not 2, but 3 homeless shelters every time I walk home from the gym, and rather than take a minute to internalize what goes on within those walls, I am focused on how not to get hit by a taxi cab as I consecutively open Foursquare, then Twitter, then Instagram, and then Facebook, to make sure I am completely current and up to speed on what’s happening in the social media sphere.

My friend, Eric Ruben, who is a very deep philosophical thinker, dropped some heavy ideas on me last week around living and experiencing life in one of two ways: A) watching and objectifying those elements “external” to us vs. B) experiencing life connected to or internalizing those same elements.  The reality is, we make decisions about where and what to focus on.  This weekend’s twitter stream reminded me how easy it is to get lost in the bullshit, “externalizing” the rest of the world in the name of what’s right in front of our faces.

As I write this, I feel a little like that asshole musician, who preaches about politics or world hunger when all I came to do was watch the fucking concert, but so it goes.  Kill it in internet land when you need to kill it in internet land, but remember to “zoom out” and experience the more fundamental elements of life as well.  I write this advice to myself and anyone else who is similarly consumed.


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Sharing the spotlight is the fastest way into the spotlight

Posted on March 7, 2011. Filed under: Hyperpublic, startups, venture capital |

I had dinner on Saturday night with my best friends dad.  He is an extremely accomplished Surgeon at UCLA Medical Center, and typically has some nuggets of wisdom if you shut up and listen for a while.  We spent a bunch of time discussing what he looks for when recruiting doctors to his practice, and the overlap in philosophy was striking.  He talked a lot about hiring based on capacity vs. historical performance (which is a practice I employ both when building the team at Hyperpublic, and also when deciding who to invest in at Lerer Ventures).  His reasoning was rooted in a concept that sometimes the real game changers need to enter an environment of increased challenge or competiveness in order to really step on the gas and outperform.  So if candidates demonstrated competency at the lower rungs of their professional development, but showed a strong delta between performance and perceived capacity, they represented something of a “value buy” insofar as a new environment might unlock some pent up talent/performance.

The conversation carried on, and as the parallels between his experience building a team and a career in medicine continued to reflect my own experiences doing the same in tech, I found myself taking notes… I particularly liked his perspective that: “The more you give other people credit, the more likely you are to be successful.” It’s a counterintuitive concept in a world where everyone is trying to get ahead, and build a track record, and get recognized for their accomplishments, but I do think there is real truth to his words.  Some of the most successful people I have met demonstrate the outsized skill of “lifting others up.”  One of my mentors, Hemant, was fabulous at giving credit and recognizing the contributions of others.  His ability to share the spotlight meant that there was always room in others’ spotlights for him.

Dr. Lawrence went on to observe what he described as an “I culture,” where everyone wants to talk about themselves and what they’ve done or are doing.  He said that he finds the most productive conversations to be ones where the word I is not used, and challenged us to start replacing “I” with “we.”  I think I may be guilty of subscribing a bit to an “I culture.”  Social media only amplifies an individual’s voice and nurtures the concept of “I” vs. “we.”  I recently gave a presentation in which one of the slides was titled “I have invested in 40 companies in the last 14 months.”  The reality is that it wasn’t me who invested in 40 companies, it was “us” that invested in 40 companies.  And by us, I mean Ken, Ben, Jonah, Eric, Moot, and me.  In a world where personal branding is an ugly but potentially necessary element of day to day, I’m going to start making a more conscious effort to turn the dial to 11 on “collective (vs. individual) branding.”  Thanks Dr. Lawrence for shedding some perspective on this subject, hopefully others will absorb your words as completely as I did.

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    I’m a NYC based investor and entrepreneur. I've started a few companies and a venture capital firm. You can email me at (p.s. i don’t use spell check…deal with it)


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